The Stanford baseball team overcame the Pacific Tigers on Tuesday night with clutch hits and excellent pitching to pull off a 3-1 comeback win at Sunken Diamond.
Cardinal pitchers teamed up to allow just three hits, but No. 17 Stanford (16-9) couldn’t get its offense moving until late in the game, stranding seven runners and grounding into four double plays in the first seven innings before scoring three runs in the bottom of the eighth to surpass the Tigers (10-19).
Freshman righthander A.J. Vanegas was first to go for the Card, getting the call to start for just the second time of his young career. Vanegas had some trouble with walks, allowing three runners to reach on balls, but he flashed an excellent curveball and gave up only one Tiger hit in the first three innings.
The bullpen continued the strong pitching effort for Stanford, as junior righty Elliott Byers was perfect in relief of Vanegas after taking the hill in the top of the fourth. In just his third appearance of the season, Byers blew through three innings without allowing a baserunner and struck out three, dropping his ERA from 13.50 to 6.35 in the process.
Things got interesting in the top of the seventh inning, when Scott Snodgress replaced Byers on the mound. The junior lefty struggled with his fastball command, as he bookended a walk with a popout and a strikeout, then gave up a single to send runners to first and second with two out. Tiger second baseman Tyger Peterson, a Palo Alto native, then ripped a single into left field, finally breaking the tie to snag a 1-0 lead.
Snodgress then gave up another walk to load the bases, but induced a ground ball to end the inning, leaving the Cardinal with just nine outs to push runs across after it had already stranded six men on the basepaths in the first six innings.
Thankfully for Stanford, the top of the lineup was up to the task in the bottom of the eighth. Jake Stewart crushed a deep line drive into left-center field that just missed the glove of left fielder Daniel Johnson, leading to a leadoff triple for the sophomore center fielder. Senior catcher Zach Jones then knotted up the game at 1-1 by blasting an RBI double off the first-base bag for his 15th RBI of the season.
“We had guys on base all night, we just couldn’t get the big two-out hit,” Jones said afterward. “I was just trying to put it in play, I was down 0-2 and he threw me a pitch I could handle.”
After a walk to Diekroeger, Piscotty then broke the tie by reaching on a badly misplayed groundout to second base, bringing home Jones to give Stanford a 2-1 lead. Piscotty went on to score the third run of the game after he advanced from first to third on a failed pickoff attempt, and then crossed the plate on a sacrifice fly from freshman first baseman Brian Ragira.
The two-run lead was more than enough for junior lefty Chris Reed, as he blazed through the bottom of the Tiger lineup to secure the win, striking out three batters in the last two innings to even his record at 1-1 for the season and give the Cardinal the crucial midweek win.
Jones said the win was good for a team that had just dropped back-to-back games to a subpar USC squad, and he gave credit to Byers for his impressive performance out of the pen.
“[Byers] did a great job, he made a few adjustments this week to try and be more deceptive,” Jones said. “He’s been working really hard all year, and it finally paid off for him.”
Byers was also pleased at his improvement after struggling so far this season.
“I was just trying to take advantage of the opportunity, I hadn’t gotten into games much this season, so I wanted to just let it go and play catch with [Jones],” Byers said. “[Pitching coach Rusty Filter] always talks about keeping the leadoff hitter off the bases, and it really helps because with one out, it’s hard to score from first base.”
With the win, the Cardinal is now 7-0 in midweek games this season, a fact that Byers attributed to increased focus.
“We’re not taking anything for granted; in baseball anybody can win on any given day,” Byers said. “Pacific is a good team, they took two out of three from USC, and you’ve got to win these midweek games, because they can seriously hurt what we’re trying to do this season.”
The Cardinal will stay at home for the first time in two weeks this weekend, as it takes on the Oregon State Beavers in a three-game set starting Friday night at 5:30 p.m.